Exploring Arts Leadership with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA

On July 16, we recorded a show with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA (NYOUSA). Our friends at Carnegie Hall bring this orchestra of amazing young musicians together each summer, and the result is pretty incredible. (You can listen to the show here, if you’d like. We highly recommend it!) The next day, From the Top staff took the entire orchestra through our Arts Leadership Workshop, led by Director of Education & Community Partnerships, Linda Gerstle. We asked Linda to share some of her favorite moments.

PS: It’s worth noting that normally, a From the Top Arts Leadership Workshop has less than 20 young musicians involved. This time, there were a few more.

NYOUSA Arts Leadership Workshop July 2014
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REQUIEM! Classical Music is Dying in America!

120 members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA debated this with conviction – from strongly agree to strongly disagree with shades of gray in between. A chorus of voices engaged with the big issues at play in their world – what it means to take it beyond the concert hall as 21st century musicians, how an orchestra can be a resource to a community – an apt illustration of the overall tone of the arts leadership workshop for Carnegie Hall’s NYOUSA.

Orchestra member (and From the Top alum) Audrey Chen summed it up best:

It was amazing seeing everyone speak out and voice their opinions. The whole orientation really went so far to show that all of us can not only play great music but can also communicate our ideas really well!

Exploring the ways music can transform lives – as individuals, small and large ensembles – was viewed from many perspectives, using an array of From the Top alumni examples. Whether raising dollars to benefit a rare blood disease like alum Stephanie Block, or mobilizing an entire community to address the gap in musical opportunities across a district’s schools like alum Thomas West, it was inspiring to watch pre-collegiate musicians tell their stories to empower others. Michael Dahlberg, an alum of the radio show and now a member of From the Top’s education team, narrated his personal journey, helping the audience to define their own version of success for themselves, envisioning the possibilities in their lives.

NYOUSA Arts Leaders at work

This workshop was just the beginning; with outreach opportunities built into the five week NYOUSA tour schedule, each participant was asked to take a question or thought from the orientation that they wanted to explore throughout the course of the tour. One of From the Top’s primary goals for the arts leadership workshop was to leave orchestra members feeling as excited and curious about the opportunities outside the concert hall as those that lie within. Many expressed an eagerness to take a next step – and we look forward to showcasing their leadership moments that we know will inspire current and future audiences.

In the meantime, check out the incredible array of thoughtful responses to a simple question:

“Music has the power to…?”

 

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In addition, here are some other quotes from the participants about the arts leadership workshop:

One of the highlights for me from the From the Top workshop was definitely the emphasis put on thinking outside the box… I think the whole workshop was very eye-opening for a lot of us.”
–Lily Honigberg

“I have always had the general idea that I wanted to use music to create positive change in the world, and the orientation helped bring focus to my ideas… A lot of what my colleagues said I had not considered yet, in examining the question, and I was glad to broaden my understanding of something so key in what I am choosing to do with my life… There was a lot of variation in how the material was presented, and we were all engaged.”
–Josephine Stockwell

[the orientation] really left a strong impression on me, and also got me thinking about what I could begin to do in college, and how I could build upon and put into action the big and small ideas I previously had on this topic of community engagement for artists.”
–Soyeong Park

 

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PS: Editor’s Note – It’s pretty clear that classical music is alive and well thanks to these young people.

How Music Heals

The healing power of music.

This is a phrase we hear a lot these days. Throughout history, music has been a source of inspiration, comfort, and support in many circumstances.

We are always amazed at the poise and achievement of our young performers on From the Top. The dedication, hard work, and passion that they share gives us hope for the future. Yet even these high-achieving young people deal with hard times, and many of our musicians share stories about how music has helped them (and others) heal. Sometimes we share those stories on air, and sometimes we choose not to.

In our recent taping recorded at Jordan Hall in Boston and aired the week of March 10 on NPR stations nationwide, the young ladies of Quartet Noce opened up to our host and live audience about the challenges they have faced in their lives so far, and how music has helped them through those challenges. They felt it was important to share this part of their story, and the response to their courage has been remarkable so far.

Quartet NoceWhen we interviewed them before they appeared on the show, the quartet struck us as a tight-knit group, with the girls operating as a group of best friends rather than only musical accomplices. They are very encouraging towards one another, and are comfortable discussing serious topics as well as lapsing into giggles when they remember a funny moment from rehearsal. Each of the girls has used music to help them cope with some tough situations in their young lives, which they shared with us on the radio show.

17-year-old violist Sloane Wesloh is a passionate advocate for people with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with at age 12 after playing classical music  for seven years. She says, when she received the diagnosis, that she wanted to quit playing. “I felt like it was pointless to be playing an instrument and focusing on passion and music when I was simply trying to stay alive,” she says, “then I came back to it about a year later when I realized that when I play music I don’t feel the needles or think about diabetes, so it’s really the only time when diabetes isn’t the main focus in my life.”

When 18-year-old cellist Drake Driscoll’s father passed away, she was only 2 years old. While she may have already had some Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies, she explains that when she was in second grade, they noticed symptoms of severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She explains, “I was worried about my mom, and going to check on her at least 10 times a night – I was worried for her safety.” At that point, she entered therapy, but she credits music as one of the things that helped her. She says that music is a way for her to escape what she’s feeling and achieve some control over her OCD.

17-year-old violinist Rose Moerschel and her twin sister have both struggled with anorexia in their young lives. While Rose has been able to get her disease under control, it can be really difficult for her to watch her twin sister, who is still struggling. She says that music has helped; “It lets me escape from that whole lifestyle.”

When 18-year-old violinist Joy Kuo came to Walnut Hill School for the Arts last year, she really missed home. While many of the boarding students at Walnut Hill can contact their parents and family quite easily, Joy’s family is in Taiwan where the time difference makes it difficult to find a good time to connect. While she misses her family very much, she says she uses practice time to help her take her mind off of it. She says, “I just go to practice and I think that if I play well or do great, they are proud of me, that my family can be proud of me.”

We would like to hear from you about this. How has music helped you get through a tough time?

Arts Leadership Plans from the Performers from Show 280, Wingate, North Carolina

Each of the performers on Show 280 attended an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop, where they explored their own personal leadership pathways. Learn how they are taking their music beyond the concert hall in their own communities:

Hannah Wang is reigniting an idea that she tabled in the fall. She plans to bring together local musicians for a jam session and instrument petting zoo at a local park or school in the spring or summer.

Clara Gerdes wrote us an email about her plans to visit a local assisted living facility:

“For an arts outreach activity, I would like to organize some friends and acquaintances with whom I often sing and play instruments to do a few informal concerts at a nursing home early next month.  We would present a variety of different styles of music, from classical to folk, and include some familiar songs the residents could sing along to–this is something I’ve noticed elderly people often really respond to and enjoy.  Also, I would like to go in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s; many places seem to get a lot of attention before but not right after the holidays. ”

Qing Yu Chen will be organizing a visit to a retirement home in New York City in the springand she hopes to involve other From the Top Alumni. Currently in the initialn planning stages, she is thinking over the goals and gameplan for her project as well as brainstorming the resources she would need to make it happen.

Olivia Staton has jumped into her own arts leadership projects since the taping. Through the music honor society at her school, she began assisting with an after-school music program in a local elementary school. The program, called Bridges, provides group music lessons and ensemble rehearsals. Recently, she demonstrated flute and assisted with one of their band rehearsals, and she envisions extending the program to other area elementary schools.

She said of the experience: “Until From the Top I had not really realized the significance of promoting classical music, and I had not really thought about what I could do to help, but now I am so excited to be doing more arts leadership activities.  Especially since there are opportunities for me to do so in my neighborhood!”

Olivia also performed in a student recital at a retirement home and took the lead in initiating an engaging conversation after the performance when everyone was afraid to speak. Following the performance, she said, “the audience seemed very engaged and happy to speak with all of the musicians and then they asked if we would be able to come back to give another recital!”

Alum Devon Naftzger’s Profound Musical Experience in Vietnam

Vietnam was the unlikely location where violist and Princeton Sophomore Devon Naftzger (Show 256) of Lincolnshire, IL had a profound musical experience brought about when she played her viola for a classroom of Vietnamese students. This past summer, Devon participated in a three-week program called Coach For College which brought her to southwestern Vietnam and the rural village of Hoa An located in the Mekong River Delta region.

Devon performs for students in Vietnam, modeling how hard work can pay off in the long run.

Devon performs for students in Vietnam, modeling how hard work can pay off in the long run.

Devon taught everything from English to volleyball at a Vietnamese summer day camp where kids studied academics and sports. At the end of the day she loved teaching what they called a “Life Skills” class.

“I loved incorporating playing my viola into my teaching,” Devon recalled. “The Vietnamese children had never heard any stringed instrument played live and they had never attended a music concert. A lot of children worked in the rice fields with their parents when they weren’t at school, so none of my students had the time or money to pursue hobbies like music. We had a rowdy group of kids who were getting to the fun age where they like to challenge authority, but everything changed the week I brought out my instrument. They were completely silent because they were so intrigued to hear me play, and I gained so much respect after I played for them.”

In her Life Skills class, Devon launched a discussion on the topic of “setting little goals to achieve big dreams.” They discussed the perseverance and dedication it takes to reach those goals, especially when you have setbacks. “ I thought this topics related perfectly to my experience with music, so I did a little demonstration. The older Vietnamese college students, fluent in English, translated.  “You can’t just pick up a violin for the first time and expect to play the toughest concerto right away,” I explained. “Instead you have to start with baby steps and pick up different techniques through easier pieces.”  To demonstrate she played the first piece she performed when she was 5 years old: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’

“I explained that I started learning classical music, but had to take it slowly. I played Bach’s Transcribed Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude. They ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’.  Next I played a movement that was a little faster, telling them that I had to learn all kinds of different bow strokes and finger patterns before I could learn a piece that incorporated many of them: Paganini’s La Campanella.  After playing them a showy passage from Preludium and Allegro (which I performed on From the Top Show 256) I told them that after you’ve put in all the hard work, then you can play things simply because they are fun.  I finished with a fiddle tune, which they danced to excitedly.”

Devon also described how many hours a day she spends practicing, and how many years she’s played without giving up. She told them about competitions she lost which crushed her. “I turned those losses into a positive motivator that made me want to practice harder,” Devon shared. “That resulted in winning some competitions, achieving my dream of performing at Carnegie Hall, and getting into Juilliard. And it was all because I started slowly all the way back at ‘Twinkle Twinkle’!”

Back at Princeton this fall, Devon plays in the Princeton University Orchestra and last year she participated in a string quartet as well.

Jon Corin: My From the Top Experience

By Jon Corin, 18-year-old saxophone player from Sarasota, Florida

Jon Corin performs on From the Top

Jon Corin performs on From the Top

When I first heard From the Top on the radio, I was in awe of the musicians who were just around my age. My favorite part of the show is how real it makes its performers, bringing them down to earth for the listener and giving an insight into the lives of these young musicians beyond the practice room. When I learned that I would have the opportunity to perform on the show, I was excited that I would be able to share both my music and who I am with the From the Top community.

It’s hard to pick just one moment that I’ll remember most when I think back to my From the Top experience. Many of my memories come from moments that were not even part of taping the show. I will always remember discovering the Gamelan with such an amazing group of musicians (who were equally confused by the instrument at first as I was). I’ll also never forget the dynamic of the green room before the show. Although we all experienced some normal pre-performance jitters, I was struck by the poise and comfort of the group.

From the start of the weekend, the From the Top staff amazed me; making the organizational machine run so incredibly smoothly, constantly maintaining a smile, and meeting every one of the performers’ needs. For me, one of the most profound aspects of the show is the sense of community and love for the arts that is so clear amongst the group. I know that I will take that feeling with me for the rest of my life, and I will try to bring it to all of the environments, musical and otherwise, of which I am a part.

Listen to Jon on this week’s episode of From the Top, taped at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota .

Taking It From the Top at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy

It’s 7:30 AM on a Monday morning at the Columbia Campus of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Kids grades K-8 have filed into the gymnasium for their usual morning meeting. Sitting in rows with backpacks and coats still on, they suddenly hear a saxophone above them play, “Oh When the Saints, Go Marching In…” The song continues with violin, melodica, cello, and voice as four teenagers come on stage to join the saxophonist above them in the crow’s nest.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Surprise concert at the Columbia Campus.  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

This was the kick-off to From the Top’s residency at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, an elementary school located on multiple campuses in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods of the City of Boston. The residency was comprised of a series of assemblies and concerts at three of the school’s four campuses, bringing the power of music to 1,000 kids.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Chad Lilley kicks off the assembly. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Thanks to a grant provided by the Free for All Concert Fund, From the Top was thrilled to visit this school in our hometown, especially since the school is so committed to music education. 600 Pope John Paul II students participate in an after-school string program. From the Top’s visit with five performers from our October 6 radio taping at NEC’s Jordan Hall served to inspire this school full of budding musicians to embrace music and keep practicing.

Mary Swanton, Music Director at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, opened the assemblies by telling her students that the From the Top performers left her speechless!

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Performers following their radio show taping at NEC’s Jordan Hall on October 6.

The interactive assemblies drew inspiration from the stories and talents of our From the Top performers – 17-year-old saxophonist Chad Lilley from Olney, Maryland; 17-year-old cellist Lev Mamuya from Newton Highlands, Massachusetts; 16-year-old pianist Niu Niu from China but now living in Natick, Massachusetts; 17-year-old mezzo-soprano Olivia Cosio from San Francisco, California; and 16-year-old violinist Yuki Beppu from Lexington, Massachusetts.

Students imagined what colors and images they heard in Lev’s performance of a Debussy Cello Sonata – purple, black, red, and rainbows.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

What do you imagine?  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

They chose sound effects for Chad to play on the saxophone from a long striped hat – such as circular breathing, playing two notes at once, and slap tongue. Watch the game here:

Yuki shared her dream of making more kids listen to classical music and after an intense performance of Ysaÿe, she played her violin along with a track of Lady Gaga’s “Applause” to the delight of the dancing and cheering audience.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Singing along with Lady Gaga.  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Olivia joined a middle school chorus from Pope John Paul II’s Mattapan campus in a performance of Beyonce’s “Halo” and then led the entire audience in a round of vocal exercises.

Niu Niu shared how hard it was to move to the United States from China and then had jaws dropping as he played Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude.

Niu Niu commented that “Watching all these kids in schools laughing and screaming and their happy facial expressions when listening to the music was amazing.”

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Check out how some of the students got into the music here:

The day long residency was every bit a learning experience for our From the Top performers as it was for the students at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy and provided a very real set of challenges and opportunities for their Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop.

“One of our main goals at our experience at PJPII was to inspire the students with music and share our love for it. I think all of us were really looking forward to seeing how they would react to our assemblies, and what they took away from the whole experience,” says Yuki. “However, something I took away from the outreach was confidence and to embrace spontaneity. When we got there, we were all forced to be somewhat spontaneous and throw ourselves out there like a pebble into a pond, and just watch the ripples forming. This applied to both the musical portion and the speaking portion as well. But with the energy of the kids and their enthusiasm, my hesitation and worries completely disappeared. So all in all, I think not only did the kids benefit from what we did, but we as performers benefited greatly as well. This was a very mutual experience, and something I will never forget.”

You can hear Chad, Lev, Yuki, Niu Niu, and Olivia in their From the Top radio episode the week of November 18.

From the Top performers with PJPII leaders.

From the Top performers with PJPII leaders.

Learn more about the Free for All Concert Fund.

Check out our photo gallery.

From the Top Alum Nathan Chan Spreads the Gospel of Music

Nathan Chan, 19

 by Jingxuan Zhang, From the Top Alumni Correspondent

Talking with Nathan Chan is a jarring reminder that I can still have hope in humanity – all I hear about is love, acceptance, and community. And String Theory, a five-cello student ensemble Nathan founded in the autumn of 2011, is the fruit of that passion. An undergraduate studying in the prestigious joint program between Columbia University and The Juilliard School, 19-year-old Nathan Chan made his appearance on From the Top on Show 207 in Stanford, California in 2009. There are very few classical musicians willing to venture into the world of popular music, but in an age which has witnessed classical music’s losing steam to the mainstream, Nathan decided to reach a wider audience with String Theory’s innovative arrangements of hits such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Viva la Vida.”

Because String Theory performs works newly arranged by members of the group, the pieces do not find their final form from the start. Thus, all rehearsals demand creativity, flexibility, and teamwork, or as Nathan puts it, “verbal rearrangement.” To ensure the quality of music, they carefully engage with it by polishing the texture and refining musical layers during the run through, working and editing along the way. And the group’s commitment to the caliber of output is just a microcosm of its mission to engage more people and share their passion for music. Nathan says, “Playing [in String Theory] has taught me to be an open thinker in terms of being a musician. I’m beginning to understand what modern audiences are looking for and enhance classical music with that knowledge.”

Nathan embraces what are now perceived as different categories of music, transcending the boundaries between classical and popular: “We make it so that all kinds of music are accessible to as many people as possible, so that music becomes less exclusive, and more community-oriented.” And isn’t the exclusivity of classical music why popular music is, well, popular? Behind the formidable fence of concert halls and suited attires, the younger generation has been estranged from centuries of tradition. Nathan is actively trying to break down barriers and invite the modern audience into his world of music without losing musical integrity. On his YouTube page, one can see Bach cello suites juxtaposed to Coldplay or The Swan neighboring Libertango. This diversity allows the audiences who enjoy mainstream to expose themselves to classical and vice versa. For Nathan, his YouTube channel’s contents are not merely video recordings, but continuations of live performances, for they continue to give music and spread joy to those who want it, anytime. As he phrases it, “Social media is a key way to reaching out to as many people as possible.”

He has learned a lot in this journey, which in a way started with his appearance on From the Top: “What impressed me most is how From the Top emphasized that music is really a community, and one has to foster it.” And foster he has. Quickly becoming one of the most popular student ensembles at Columbia University, String Theory established itself as one of the best and most popular ensembles on campus, being invited to collaborate with various campus organizations and student composers. Nathan Chan and String Theory surely have earned their name as “Columbia University’s Premiere Cello Ensemble.”

For more information on Nathan, visit nathanchancello.com. Listen to his musical journey at youtube.com/nathanchancello. And finally, follow him at twitter.com/nathanchancello.

Update: Nathan recently performed on behalf of From the Top at two events in Aspen: an event hosted by From the Top radio sponsor U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management at the Aspen Ideas Festival; and a From the Top soiree in conjunction with a radio taping at the Aspen Music Festival and School.

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